Rise in chronic diseases in children prompts urgent health plan
An increase in the subsidy on pharmaceuticals for children and the revamping of an intervention programme aimed at promoting physical activity and balanced dietary consumption in schools are part of the Government's plans to improve the health of the nation's children.
Effective tomorrow, approximately 11,000 children are set to benefit from the 100 per cent increase in subsidy on drugs, respiratory devices and diabetic supplies under the National Health Fund (NHF).
According to NHF, the majority of these children have been diagnosed with asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, and sickle cell.
The health fund is expected to spend $70 million annually to facilitate the increase in the financial assistance, which represents a massive increase from the $26 million which is currently being spent for the average 40 per cent subsidy rate.
"The approval came after careful analysis by the Medical Review Subcommittee of the (NHF) board after verification that this initiative could be adequately financed for the foreseeable future," Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton noted in June during his Sectoral Presentation.
"It is similar to the Jamaica Drug For the Elderly Programme (JADEP), where what we have done is to expand the age group to allow for additional persons to benefit," Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.
Health checks critical
The minister was pleased with efforts made by clinics, members of parliament, not-for-profit entities, individuals and organisations which hosted health clinics and offered other health services to ensure that children were prepared for back to school.
"The health checks are absolutely critical. It shouldn't be dependent on back to school, but it is a good place to start," he said.
Tufton said he will start to visit schools in a few weeks as part of a coordinated effort with the Ministry of Education to promote healthy lifestyle among children.
"We have an intervention programme for schools to promote physical activity and balanced dietary consumption. That activity is an ongoing one, but we are revamping aspects of it, and you will see a stepped-up level of activity in the schools by the Ministry of Health, working with the Ministry of Education," he noted.
"The truth is that the research suggests that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) over time represent a habit. Habits are acquired from early. NCDs are linked directly to too much consumption of sugars, salts and fats and a lack of physical activity, and so the school environment is absolutely fundamental as a starting point to encouraging healthy consumption habits as well as physical activity as part of the healthy lifestyle framework."
The NHF said it is concerned about the number of children with chronic illnesses, and is equally concerned about the risk factors associated with the development of these illnesses into adulthood.
"This includes lack of physical activity among children, the number of obese
children, and poor eating habits. The NHF supports the Health Promoting School Initiative of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education," a representative from the organisation stated.
The NHF currently conducts screening in high schools to identify children with hypertension, low haemoglobin, and also do BMI checks. Counselling is also provided to students and support is given for Healthy Lifestyle Clubs in schools.